With each passing adventure it seems that the challenges invariably rise to the next level. At which point it becomes the dubious task of raising the bar once again. After climbing Mt. Diablo's 3849 feet, only days earlier, upping the ante would be a tall order. If one were to extend the simile, in talking about orders, Mt. Hamilton would be a vente mochachino... A steady, steep grade boosts you to a mere 4,200 feet above sea level. With only a few brief shallow descents, most of the 18.5 miles to the Lick Observatory at the top is an uphill grade. Some claim that that grade is about 6.5%, others claim that it is more like a steady 8%. Even if it's somewhere in between, it's still a vigorous unrelenting climb.
On the way to the Observatory you pass lush fields of grasses, abandoned barns, and active ranches, teeming with horses, cattle, and sleepy eyed dogs. On a good day, the sun will shine through, raising the temperature to a dry mid-nineties. Ascending Mt. Hamilton on a clear day allows you to savor astounding views of the surrounding valley for miles. Being the highest peak in the Bay Area, Mt. Hamilton also has the advantage of having a completely unobstructed sight shed only limited by air clarity. The steepness of the mountainside dictates a road which twists and slithers up the mountain like a black snake through an overgrown oak forest. The roads turns in and around on itself forming what might look like steps from an aerial view.
Each curve ascends a bit further up the bas-relief incline. The Lick Observatory appears within sight for a good deal of the climb, deceptive in its false relief, making it appear that you are close to the end of the climb, when, there is still an hour's worth of mountain to surmount. It is just that form of trickery that leaves you disbelieving when you have actually arrived at the peak. It is not until you ride up and touch the Observatory, and look over the balcony, that you finally leave behind the portions of the route you've bested.
Your bottles will have been drained dry and long since been collecting mountain dust by the time you've reached the top. So, after filling up at the fountain inside the Lick, you'll face the next, most challenging portion of the ride. After climbing to the summit, what's left but to go down? That's the easy part, right? Yes, a nearly uninterrupted 19 mile descent awaits you but, it's a treacherously steep descent through 320, often tight, switchbacks complete with loose gravel and cracked road surfaces. Mt. Hamilton is a technical descent that will have you panting for breath while your heart and mind race as you bomb into corners cutting a line through slippery road debris as that same black snake uncoils at hyper-active speeds.
The descent is spiced up by the occasional hay truck barreling through, forcing you to find a new line - halfway through a hairpin turn. Allowing your focus to shift away from the descent could spell disaster so, none other than your fullest attention will get you to the bottom alive. With that intensity you'll scorch the pavement all the way back to your start point at the base of Mt. Hamilton. It will take half the time that it took to climb. At the base, the adrenaline will slowly ebb from your bloodstream as you drink in the satisfaction of having toughed out Mt. Hamilton.